Haiti cholera epidemic set to 'explode': United Nations | world | Hindustan Times
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Haiti cholera epidemic set to 'explode': United Nations

world Updated: Nov 17, 2010 14:55 IST

PTI
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The number of Haitians infected with cholera - a disease unknown to the island until October - is set to "explode," a UN official said Geneva.

"The marathon to contain the epidemic is advancing," said Elizabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Tuesday.

"The numbers (of infected) will explode."

According to the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, as of Nov 12 the outbreak had infected 14,642 people and killed 917, an increase of nearly 200 over three days.

On Monday night, riots broke out in several towns in Haiti, leaving at least one person dead, as protesters blamed UN peacekeepers for the cholera outbreak, the origins of which remain unknown.

Although tests conducted so far have not corroborated the rumor, "the priority now is not to investigate the origin of the outbreak, but to control it," said Fadela Chaib, spokesperson for the World Health Organization.

She added, however, that an investigation would be conducted at a later date.

The disease, which broke out in an area unaffected by the January earthquake, is typically associated with poor hygiene, and water and sanitation infrastructures. It can be successfully treated with the administration of re-hydration salts.

The consensus among scientists, according to Chaib, is that cholera will remain in the country for years.

"Since the bacteria is present in the environment, and as the health and sanitation system is in deplorable conditions, we do not expect the bacteria to disappear quickly from the environment," she said.

The country is still reeling from the aftermaths of the Jan 12 earthquake, which according to the Haitian government killed over 230,000 people and destroyed large parts of the country's infrastructure.

Adding to the general level of instability, Haitian presidential elections will be held on Nov. 28.

The United Nations on Friday appealed for $163.9 million to mitigate the effects of the cholera outbreak. The appeal, which anticipates that a total of 200,000 people will show cholera symptoms over the next six months, will focus on providing health services to those affected and ensuring access to clean water, sanitation and health management.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the UN Children's Emergency Fund has distributed "millions" of water purification tablets, "thousands" of bars of soaps and "tons" of chlorine for cleaning water. It also aims to provide around 5,000 schools with hygiene promotion materials, soap and drinking water.